Leggings: the unofficial uniform of January? The fact that they’re the garment preferred by resolution-makers and relaxed dressers alike suggests so. Glancing around a yoga studio on the first frosty Wednesday of 2024, I saw a dozen women of diverse ages and body types unrolling their mats. Every last one wore leggings. No surprise there, but leggings were ubiquitous outside the studio, too: women wore them to pick up coffee, rushing to the Tube, walking the dog…
Good thing they were all too busy to pay attention to Chip Wilson. Last week, the disgraced Lululemon founder, already infamous for his 2013 remark that “some women’s bodies don’t work” for leggings, suggested that the company had gone too far in terms of embracing customers of all shapes and sizes. He told Forbes, “You’ve got to be clear that you don’t want certain customers coming in.”
How utterly charmless. Not to mention commercially misguided (the women in my yoga class might express their views in stronger terms). “I don’t think anyone should tell another person what they should and shouldn’t be wearing. It’s a matter of personal choice,” says Chloé Pierre, author and the founder of wellness brand thy.self. “If you don’t like it, turn the other way.”
The thing is, there’s no such thing as a body that’s wrong for leggings – just bad leggings. And there are so many ways that leggings can fail. They can ping down in the middle of a forward fold, show sweaty patches halfway through a strenuous barre class, compress so hard they leave marks or – *shudder* – go transparent in downward dog. No wonder everyone has a different opinion about where to find the good ones.
“I need leggings that stay up, don’t roll down, don’t go sheer and feel really soft to touch,” Pierre says. As a plus-size woman, she’s attentive to inclusiveness in size ranges and marketing. Her current favourites are Vuori’s AllTheFeels leggings, which feel “incredible” on thanks to the brand’s super-soft BlissBlend fabric. (Reminder: the most important thing is how the woman wearing the leggings feels, not how anyone else thinks she looks in them.)
Some of the strongest views concerning which leggings go the distance come from fitness instructors. They do live in their leggings, after all. “If I’m not in leggings, I’m in bike shorts, which are literally short leggings,” Shona Vertue laughs. The personal trainer and yoga instructor wore Prism2’s ribbed Awaken leggings throughout her recent pregnancy. The brand’s seamless, 3D-knit fabric stretches in every direction, meaning that one size fits UK size 6 to 16. “The material caters to rapid changes in your body, so I didn’t have to go buy a different size every trimester.”
Peloton instructor Hannah Frankson prefers high-waisted leggings, but she remembers when they weren’t the easiest to find. “I used to pull leggings up constantly so they wouldn’t fall down when I ran,” she says. These days, she has about 50 pairs “stacked like bricks” under her bed, ready to grab for runs and rides. “I like leggings that feel like I am not wearing anything at all but also give me that feeling of warmth and security” – mainly versions of Lululemon’s bestselling Align legging (the company quickly distanced itself from Wilson’s remarks, by the way).
For outdoor runs, you’re going to want side pockets to hold a phone, a house key, a tissue. Sweaty Betty’s Power Pro leggings come with four angled side pockets, a zipped back pocket, plus reflective details for visibility. A runner friend (we all have one) swears by Irish brand Fit Pink’s “deep pockets and good support”. M&S Go Move leggings have pockets and, at £27.50, a friendly price. Sales were up 12 per cent the first week of January compared with the last week of December. Also notable: a photographer I know praises Tala’s “super-buttery” DayFlex wrap high-waisted leggings, while a luxury fashion PR endorses H&M’s “very flattering” crossover-waistband styles. Knee-pain sufferers who still want to take part in studio classes should check out PADA, a small British brand whose leggings come with kneepad inserts.
The glut of gym joiners and Dry January bores explains why legging sales remain robust. But what if you’re less into PBs, and more into OOTDs? Alo Yoga calls this “studio-to-street style” and it’s one of the LA-based activewear brand’s signatures. The brand, which recently launched in the UK, specialises in matching sets beloved by Kylie and Kendall Jenner. Their perennial bestseller is the Airlift legging, but for the adventurous activewear customer, the bikini-seamed Head Start (very Jane Fonda) and cutout-waistband All Access are cult buys.
I’m allergic to brightly coloured leggings and anything shiny, preferring subtle patterns in dark tones or matte black (more quiet luxury than Spice Girls, thank you very much). Girlfriend Collective leggings have just the right degree of compression for subtle sculpting and come in a range of chic colours, from size XXS to 6XL. Reiss has some minimal high-waisted leggings in its sale that would look terrific with an oversized cream polo-neck jumper and huge Céline sunglasses. See also Arket, Organic Basics and Colourful Standard, but go beyond black – in fact, chocolate brown looks like the stealth-wealth activewear colour to know. If you aren’t convinced, see Varley’s Instagram page and e-commerce styling.
Of course this is subjective. For every woman who wouldn’t dream of wearing leggings in any colour but black, with a bum-covering shirt, there’s another who will feel cute in a bright pink crop top and leggings set. If you’re in the former camp and ready to try another look, then congratulations on feeling fashion-experimental during winter. The outfit formula to remember is simple: leggings and long coats. Worn with a slightly cropped top and leggings, a tailored wool coat will fulfil the same function as an oversized T-shirt (read: it covers your bum). Just add scrunched-down athletic socks and trainers, and you’re good to go.
Another solution is to choose leggings that are less… legging-y. The pair I’ve been wearing non-stop are Lululemon’s Groove high-rise flares. Made in the same so-soft Nulu fabric as the Align range, they offer the comfort of leggings, without making me feel like I’m about to attempt a 5K. I’ve worn them on long-haul flights, to a press breakfast and to that yoga class. And what do you know, I’ve just realised that I’m wearing them to write about leggings today.
Which goes to show that the best leggings are the ones you can stop thinking about as soon as you put them on. Remember: no wrong bodies, only wrong leggings. Get to it.
Three styles to try
The soft ones
Left to right: AllTheFeels leggings, £110, Vuori vuoriclothing.co.uk; DayFlex wrap high-waisted leggings, £59, Tala wearetala.com; Groove super-high-waisted flared pants, £108, Lululemon lululemon.co.uk
The supportive ones
Left to right: Power UltraSculpt high-waisted leggings, £88, Sweaty Betty sweatybetty.com; Go Move high-waisted gym leggings, £27.50, Marks & Spencer marksandspencer.com; Knee-padded leggings, £87, PADA padatribe.com; Elevate gym leggings, £50, Fit Pink fitpink.co.uk
The studio-to-street ones
Left to right: Girlfriend Collective Compressive high-rise leggings, £65, John Lewis johnlewis.com; Active high-rise leggings, £70, Colourful Standard colourfulstandard.com; Ribbed awaken leggings, £105, Prism prismlondon.com; The Upside leggings, £109, Reiss reiss.com